Star Trek's 'beam me up' device comes a little closer

By Steve Connor

Scientists have set a record in sending information using the revolutionary technology of quantum teleportation - although Mr Spock may have to wait a little longer for a Scotty to beam him up with it.

A team of physicists have teleported data 143km from the Canary Island of La Palma to the neighbouring island of Tenerife, which is 10 times further than the previous attempt at teleportation through free space.

The scientists did it by exploiting the "spooky" and virtually unfathomable field of quantum entanglement - when the state of matter rather than the matter itself is sent from one place to another.

Tiny packets or particles of light called photons were used to teleport information between telescopes on the two islands.

The photons did it by quantum entanglement and scientists hope that it will form the basis of a new way of sending encrypted data.

The teleporters used in the TV series Star Trek are said to have been based on the idea of quantum entanglement and the new study demonstrates that elements of the phenomenon could have a practical use in the real world.

But quantum entanglement has been carried out only on the simplest forms of matter, and scientists believe a fundamentally new approach will be needed if it can ever be used for teleporting people or even non-living objects.

Robert Ursin, of the University of Vienna, said the latest experiment in quantum entanglement demonstrates its potential as a means of communicating sensitive information via satellites using quantum cryptography, which would effectively deploy an uncrackable security code.

"We really wanted to show that this can be done in the real world, and our dream is to go into space and try it there, Dr Ursin said.

"This was a feasibility study funded by the European Space Agency. In principle such experiments may be used for teleporting information between places, but our system is not capable of transporting matter.

"We think Star Trek is very good science fiction, but I'm afraid teleporting people is not possible with current technology.

"But we could use some scheme to teleport information."

Albert Einstein described quantum entanglement as "spooky action at a distance". It relies on the fact that two photons can be created in such a way that they behave as a single object, even if they are separated by large distances.

Behaving this way, they are acting as a teleportation machine because any changes to one causes similar changes to the other.

This is done through a third photon, which is teleported from the photon in the transmitting station to the photon in the receiving station.

In the process, the third photon becomes entangled with the transmitting photon and so carries its quantum information to the receiving photon, which interacts with the third photon in such a way that it becomes identical to it - hence the information is transmitted.

"We know that quantum entanglement works over very short distances," Dr Ursin said.

"But we've shown it can be brought out of the laboratory and be used to transmit over long distances."


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